Sunday, April 26, 2009

Smile, You're on Second Avenue

Store front, Upper East Side
Let's see a smile on your face", he said in the way of New Yorkers; friendly but remote, intimate yet distant. You can say almost anything to a fellow New Yorker. No need of introduction. We are all family here. And like members of a real family, we keep our distance. People sitting next to each other on a New York bus, might chat about a movie they've both seen, the joys of grand-motherhood, the stockmarket, only to alight stops apart, never to see each other again.

So I answered my fellow New Yorker with smile, and he smiled back.

"Now where was I? Oh yes, on the place marked "B" on the map to the right. I'd just had a rather late brunch at our excellent neighborhood restaurant Nina's, and was walking north along Second Avenue about 300 meters to the local UPS store.

Before setting out for brunch, I'd decided to take a few photos. The weather was warm, verging on a muggy hot. It'd be good to take some pics before summer set in. So instead of walking along in a Mahattan daze, I was looking at the stores, or more correctly, at the places where the stores used to be, as my latest fad in photography is shop facades. When I get the urge to photograph it's always in themes. A few years ago it was billboards and I recently started manhole covers.

Now I know that times are hard, but I hadn't realized how depressed our neighbourhood had become. From B to A on the Google map clip above - in less than 0.2 miles - a desolation row ... storefront upon storefront of closed-up businesses.
I dont remember what stores used to be here ...

Or here

But this used to be a pub - "The Big Easy"

"They're selling postcards of the hanging
They're painting the passports brown
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors
The circus is in town" (Dylan)

"Here comes the blind commissioner
They've got him in a trance
One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker
The other is in his pants
And the riot squad theyre restless
They need somewhere to go
As lady and I look out tonight
From desolation row" (Dylan)

There used to be a trendy deli here; baskets of shiny red apples and tables and chairs for the coffee drinkers ... I must have a photo of it ... somewhere.

At least this looks a bit artistic ... images of Mondrian?
And now we are back to where we started.

I've come to the end of my 300 metre walk.

Yes it looks as if New York is falling down. But it's not, you know. Far from it. And that is one of the many things I love about New York. And New Yorkers.

We might be down, but we are never out. And as my weekend draws to a close, I'll remember my friend from this afternoon; I'll put a smile on my face.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Saturday Solitude

Construction on 2nd Avenue
This minute it is Saturday in Manhattan. It is almost Sunday in England, and it is Easter Sunday in Australia. I sit quietly at my desk, alone in an apartment on the Upper East Side. Many would envy me. Or would imagine that they should. Don't get me wrong. I love my apartment. And I love Manhattan. And often, I enjoy being alone. But at times it can be alienating. The aloneness. The New Yorkness. The empty weekendness. I live on the Upper East Side. Walking distance from Central Park, but not close enough to experience its serenity.

And for the past year and a half there's been construction going on around the apartment building. The City is building a Second Avenue subway and it will pass directly under 245 East 93rd Street where I live. The air outside is alive with the sounds of jack-hammers, drills, cranes, motors and the honkings of car-horns as impatient New York motorists express their frustration at the detours and disruptions.

Inside the apartment it's peaceful. Back from shopping I put flowers on a bookshelf, in an attempt to brighten the weekend. In doing so I remember a line from a book I'm reading. "When you live alone, your furnishings, your possessions, are always confronting you with the thinness of your existence. You know with painful accuracy the provenance of of everything you touched and the last time you touched it." - Zoe Heller's What Was She Thinking?: Notes on a Scandal. I've seen the movie but only just started reading the novel, and that is because I recently chanced upon the excellent writings of Zoe Heller.

Last week I read Heller's The Believers which unlike Notes on a Scandal is uplifting as well as droll.

But back to Heller's "thinness" of experience. Is my existence "thin"? I don't think so. And unlike the protaganist of "Notes on a Scandal", I don't exactly live alone. In a few weeks jps will be back, the apartment will be strewn with papers, the place will light up with smells of real food being cooked with care, and there'll be a comforting disorder to contend with.

Sometimes I envy people who have equilibrium in their lives. People who live in houses full of people coming and going at a consistent pace. An evenness to their lives. On Sundays the rellies come over. On Saturdays shopping with the daughter-in-law. Pottery classes on Thursdays. Saturday evenings, dinner with friends. Timetabled diversity.

My life has never been even. It's either one thing or the other. Noisy construction or daffodils on bookshelves. Chaotic work weeks interspersed with weekends of solitude. Life as a single woman periodically interrupted by a noisy husband flying in from life on a ship in a cyclone ravished sea.

Once I was married to a hermit with eclectic taste in music. The eclecticism was fair enough, but his weekly selection of albums to play was disconcerting to put it mildly. Looking back I should have probably have seen a danger signal the first time I found him "planning" the next week's music ...

Every Sunday night he'd compose a list of what to play the following week. He had some weird system involving random numbers used to sequence the various albums based on their ISBN numbers. Whenever he was home there was music. I'd hear Lou Reed's heroin angst Transformer followed by Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G major. "Why don't you just play what you feel like?" I'd ask. "Then it wouldn't seem so disjointed and unnerving". His reply - "Oh but all the albums need their turn. Otherwise it wouldn't be fair."

We didn't say "Whatever" in the seventies, or I'm sure I would have. I don't remember what my reply was to his ridiculous explanation. And anyway, it was all my fault as my mother never tired of telling me. After all, I married him.

I recall the random record playing on days like today. As I sit in quiet and solitude, knowing that outside the air is full of that ever-present New York hum, and that in less than 48 hours my peace and aloneness will be abruptly and inevitably

By another working week in New York.